There might only be a handful of games to go in the 2022-23 regular season, but we’re still a long way from knowing who will play who in the NBA play-in tournament. The wild Western Conference is about as close as humanly possible, and though the East is a little less chaotic, there are still plenty of different matchups which we could feasibly end up with. As we near the culmination of the regular season, let’s take a look at all of the possibilities for the 2023 NBA play-in tournament.
The situation as it stands
With either five or six games to go, just four games separate the Phoenix Suns in fourth from the stumbling Dallas Mavericks way back in 11th. The Suns, along with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, are currently locked into the top six, but with so many teams on their heels, a couple of losses could quickly see them fall into the play-in tournament.
Occupying the play-in positions are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder in that order, but they are all separated by just a solitary game while the Mavs are one game further back, so it’s highly possible that things will change in the West.
The Eastern Conference is a little less complicated, though positions are still far from set in stone. The top five are far enough ahead that they’ll avoid the play-in tournament, while the Washington Wizards (11th) and Indiana Pacers (12th) would need a miracle to advance.
At present, the Brooklyn Nets sit in sixth, a game and a half clear of the play-in tournament. In 7th is the Miami Heat, who are a game and a half clear of the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors, before the Chicago Bulls look pretty set in 10th.
NBA play-in possible matchups
With so little separating such a large number of teams in the Western Conference, a surprise result here or there has the potential to completely upend any predictions, but we’ll give it a try anyway.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s predictions, which are based on strength of schedule over the remaining few games, the current standings in the West will stay exactly as they are – incredible given how tight that conference is. Per that model, the teams occupying the play-in spots won’t change, with the Warriors staying a game ahead of the Timberwolves and the Lakers, and the Mavericks missing out as a result of losing their season series to the Thunder. These results would see the following matchups in the Western Conference play-in tournament:
No. 10 Oklahoma City Thunder @ No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans
No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers @ No.7 Minnesota Timberwolves
The winner of the Lakers/Timberwolves game, of course, would advance through as the seven seed, while the loser of that game would play the winner of the Thunder/Pelicans game for the eighth seed.
It’s worth mentioning that in this scenario, the Thunder are tied for wins with the Mavericks in 11th, while the Lakers and Timberwolves are also tied for wins, just a game ahead of the Pelicans and a game behind the Warriors, so there is plenty of scope for this to change.
It’s a little easier to make sense of the East, with only five teams to seriously consider as play-in tournament potentials – assuming the Wizards or Pacers don’t go on an unlikely run over the next couple of weeks. Interestingly, the same model mentioned above has the East staying the same as it currently is too, with the Nets jumping a couple of games ahead in fifth courtesy of a home stretch which will see them leave Brooklyn just once in their last five games.
The Heat, meanwhile, already with 1.5-game buffer in seventh, should be safe there with games against the Pistons, Wizards and Magic to come. Eighth and ninth are the trickiest positions to sort with very little between the Hawks and the Raptors, but with Atlanta owning the season series they might snare the eighth position. That leaves Toronto in ninth, hosting the Bulls in the play-in tournament.
No. 10 Chicago Bulls @ No. 9 Toronto Raptors
No. 8 Atlanta Hawks @ No. 7 Miami Heat
This scenario, of course, would see the Heat and the Hawks battle it out to be the seven seed, while the eight seed will come from the loser of that game and the winner of the Bulls/Raptors matchup.
These scenarios are based on the most likely outcomes in each match to come in the regular season, but as the Charlotte Hornets have shown with their recent three-game winning streak over the Mavs and Thunder, anything can happen in the NBA. Ironically, even without the NBA play-in tournament, both the East and the West would have enthralling battles for the final spots in the playoffs this season. With its addition, however, that intrigue is heightened even further, and over the last couple of weeks of the season, the majority of games will have implications on the playoff seeding.
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